(RxWiki News) Low levels of a naturally-occurring steroid may be linked to an increased risk of developing heart or blood vessel disease in elderly men.
The steroid, dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is secreted by the adrenal gland and circulates in the blood primarily in a sulfated form called DHEA-S. DHEA production is known to decrease with age, but associated health effects are unknown.
"Talk to your doctor about regular cardiovascular risk assessments."
During the study researchers followed 2,416 men between the ages of 69 and 81 who were participants in the Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Sweden study, a long-term project examining risk factors for various diseases. The patients had blood drawn to measure levels of DHEA-S.
During a five-year follow up period, investigators recorded 485 cases of cardiovascular disease among participants through review of national medical registries.
Researchers found that older men with the lowest DHEA-S blood levels were significantly more likely to develop cardiovascular disease within five years as compared to men with higher levels of the steroid.
Åsa Tivesten, MD, PhD, associate professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, said the findings may suggest that DHEA-S is protective or that lower levels indicate poor general health.
Though a link was found, researchers cannot be certain that lower DHEA-S levels lead to heart disease, only that there appears to be an association.
Dr. Tivesten said additional research will be needed to understand the underlying mechanisms and to evaluate the potential benefits of hormone replacement therapy.
In certain other tissues, DHEA-S is converted into sex hormones testosterone and estrogen.
Currently, checking DHEA-S levels is not part of a routine cardiovascular risk assessment, but if the association is verified such testing may prove beneficial.
"A potential practical implication is that established cardiovascular risk factors perhaps should be assessed and treated more aggressively in men with lower DHEA-S levels," said Dr. Tivesten. "However, this must be evaluated in future studies."
The study was presented Saturday at The Endocrine Society's 94th Annual Meeting in Houston.